Behind the dance performance cutback at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Mariinsky in “Swan Lake,” (c) Gene Schiavone

I heard the news from friends, who started complaining soon after they got their renewal notices to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ 2013 International Dance Series. After 27 years, the center was trimming its Tuesday-to-Sunday dance engagements to a more conservative and shorter Friday-to-Sunday schedule. Only the Mariinsky Ballet, which is bringing the recession-proof Swan Lake to the center, will still offer seven performances over six days (Oct. 2-7). The rest of the season includes Trey McIntyre Company, Hamburg Ballet and Eifman Ballet.

The Segerstrom Center had been among the last holdouts to do this. Theaters worldwide have seen their subscription audiences shrink dramatically. People no longer want to commit to buying a full series of shows. This has left theater administrators scrambling to sell more and more single tickets, leading to financial insecurity and instability. I still remember my shock at all the empty seats for a performance several years ago by Compania Nacional de Danza. The center reseated patrons from the balcony to fill in portions of the orchestra section.

At the Segerstrom Center, it used to be that ballet companies would present two programs over a week: shorter ballets Tuesday through Thursday, and then a full-evening story ballet on the weekends. The weekday crowd tended to be the more experienced and knowledgeable dance audience, and they preferred the mixed-repertory nights. Now they will have one program choice only, and for this season, that’s mostly the full-evening ballets. Several of my friends have cut back subscriptions. But overall the picture is positive, according to Todd Bentjen, the center’s vice president of marketing and communications. He said (via email): “Our season tickets holders’ satisfaction is a top priority, and we provided personal service to each patron working with them to ensure their satisfaction. I am pleased to report that we are on track to increase the total number of season ticket holders for the year.”

Judy Morr, the center’s executive vice president and the brains behind the dance series since it started in 1986, said that when possible, the center will still try to bring in companies for seven-day engagements. But the world has changed. “We decided since so many of the companies are not traveling…they come expecting to do fewer performances and that’s what many of the other presenters want,” Morr said. “What we tried to do is take a prudent look at what was available and what could work within our overall budget and still have what I think is an interesting and good season and represents four different styles and four different approaches to dance.”

And that’s my segue to…

September is fast approaching so over the next several weeks I will be taking a look at the dance offerings for the season, and giving you my thoughts. But first – vacation! So check back on Monday, August 20. And spread the word about Emphasis Dance. Thanks!

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